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Mall Owner Backs Off Hotel; Still Wants Act 250 Exemption

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Don Sinex - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Don Sinex
Developer Don Sinex says he won't be adding a boutique hotel to the makeover of the Burlington Town Center, following a decision by the District # 4 Environmental Commission Monday that a hotel would trigger state environmental review under Act 250, which can be a long and involved permitting process. 

Sinex still wants a smart growth exemption from Act 250 for the $230 million makeover of the aging downtown mall and said Monday he will apply for the waiver later this year. He said he will take the hotel out of his mall-redesign plans. 

He called Monday's jurisdictional opinion “absolutely meaningless"  and said it wouldn't affect his immediate designs for the 40-year-old mall in the heart of Burlington. "We sought a clarification only for purposes of giving us options in the future," Sinex said. 

The most recent publicly revealed plans, presented last week, didn't show or mention a hotel. They call for demolition of the current mall and transformation of the space into a mixed-use complex with 274 new units of housing, which the developer has said would be include both condos and rental units, with 20 percent designated as affordable housing. The plans also include 218,000 square feet of retail space, 350,000 square feet of office space and 948 parking spaces on three above-ground levels, after the current 575-space garage is torn down.

But a hotel has clearly been pondered by the developer. In a Dec. 14 letter to environmental regulators, Sinex's lawyer Brian Dunkiel said the redevelopment may "also include a new hotel with approximately 100-150 rooms."

The letter to Peter Keibel, coordinator of the District #4 Environmental Commission, sought a jurisdictional opinion on how adding hotel units might affect Sinex's plans to seek an Act 250 exemption as a "mixed-use, priority housing project." To qualify for the exemption, a mixed-use project in Burlington would need to have fewer than 275 units of housing.

Keibel's opinion stated that the hotel units would not be counted as housing units and would not push the total units over the threshold in the exemption. Keibel said, however, the hotel units would disqualify the project for the exemption in a different way. They would not meet the exemption's criteria for commercial space. "I do not find that the hotel rooms would satisfy the requirements as a commercial part of the 'Mixed Use' component of a Mixed Use Priority Housing Project," wrote Keibel. As a result, a project with the hotel units would have to go through Act 250, Keibel said.

Sinex says the question is moot at this point — and the hotel is off the drawing board.

“Right now there's no demand for a hotel. Five years from now I don’t know what the demand's going to be," Sinex said. "I wanted to understand how they would interpret a hotel unit.” 

Sinex said the exemption from Act 250 would bring efficiency and predictability to the process. He will apply for the exemption after the proposal goes though city reviews, which could take a year. 


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